A long, long time ago, I wrote this post about Angeline of the Woods. I felt as if I levelled up while writing Angeline, as if my ability to tell a story finally clicked into place (telling a story well is, of course, another level entirely). It’s such a pleasure to see it among the fantastic fiction of Theaker’s Quarterly #36 (available free to download in a pleasing variety of formats).
Feathers is a character I’ve written for outside of Angeline, and one I’ll write for in future. He’s a bit stuffy and stoic, but also has a wonderful love for people that means he’s always going to be trying to fix someone’s problems. And Pace and Wander’s dimension manipulating experiments mean that he can always find someone with problems that need fixing. It gives me the chance to explore strange new worlds with the familiarity of a recurring character and framing device.
But Feathers is difficult to write for. He’s middle-class, educated, able-bodied, white, male… And he’s inviting himself into other people’s lives and solving their problems. Given that I’m interested in exploring different cultures, different beliefs, different psychologies and anything else outside my own life, it’s a problem.
What I really want to avoid is my dominant culture male coming into the world and lives of non-dominant culture individuals, and solving all the problems they can’t solve themselves. On the other hand, Feathers’ involvement in the resolution needs to be integral otherwise there’s no point in having him in the story. It’s a very thin line.
I tried to walk that line in Angeline. Feathers steps into the situation with the intention of saving his own life and to hell with anything else. However, the more he runs around trying to make everyone dance to his tune, the more he forgets why he went there. He ends up trying to solve everyone else’s problems and forgets about his own. In the end, he stands on the docks before Nickolai’s small flotilla of ships, and dares them to defy him.
Even if Feathers’ plan was flawless, Ingle has ideas of her own and no desire what-so-ever to take a back seat to anyone. Like Feathers, she takes the situation she finds herself in and tries to manipulate it to her advantage, to her own idea of how the story should end. Feathers is at first a nuisance and then a useful tool, providing a distraction while she deals with Nickolai’s ships.
As Ingle and Nickolai stand on the docks and lock eyes, the creaking of the ships and stares of the entire town in the background, they speak for themselves and decide their own fates. They follow the morals and desires they had been following long before Feathers appeared in their lives.
I’m slowly piecing together another Feathers story and so I’m very conscious of the potential troubles. Any person he meets is going to need a very good reason to change their mind about something important to them, and a speech and pretty smile from someone they’ve only known a few days isn’t even close to being enough. A lot of the time, someone they’ve only known a few days sacrificing their own life isn’t enough. Feathers is going to be largely clueless when it comes to the local geography and society; foraging for food, finding safe havens, knowing who to talk to, deciphering codes and any kind of local history are all knowledge and skills he’s going to have to rely on a native to supply. And if there’s a way to solve the problem that’s obvious and available to an almost stranger, it’s probably been tried many, many times before the stranger ever turned up.
What I need to remember, I think, is one of the golden rules of writing: Every character thinks that they’re the centre of the story.
Feathers is going to cause as many problems as he solves, if he’s lucky. He’s never going to be the hero of the hour, but he’s going to be around when things happen. He’s just as human as the rest of us, and so are all the people meets.